Microsoft recently launched a new branch called Microsoft Philanthropies, which has vowed to donate technology to 70,000 organizations around the world in the next three years. Their stated goal is to help non-profits, NGOs, and university researchers gain access to cloud-computing and other technologies that businesses use for low cost data storage.
This could be a huge benefit to a number of organizations that need such technology but don’t necessarily have the resources to get it. They’ve made the point that they plan to work with groups in poor parts of the world, such as the Mawingu Project in rural Kenya, to help them not only get the technology but to implement it.
Microsoft does face criticism for the announcement though. While giving technology to non-profits is pretty generous, critics are worried that it’s essentially a marketing tool. They fear that the company is less concerned with doing good than they are with expanding into new markets and building reliance on them and their technology. Sort of like the old drug dealer’s trick of giving somebody the first hit for free. That may be a pretty heavy handed metaphor, but Microsoft has already faced pushback from the Indian government for taking advantage of white spaces on TV frequencies to expand connectivity without paying the associated fees.
It’s a tough question to answer, and something of a chicken and egg scenario. Is Microsoft doing good work that could help them, or doing marketing that happens to help others? How much does it really matter, either way? If they do reap a benefit from this, so long as they don’t plan to give technology to needy groups, then suddenly start charging them for services that used to be free, they can probably avoid doing any real damage while part of a win-win situation.